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UCLA men’s basketball team takes on Cal, Stanford in weekend rematches at Pauley Pavilion

UCLA men's basketball takes on Cal and Stanford in rematches this weekend at Pauley Pavilion

UCLA coach Ben Howland watched the game tape three or four times the weekend after his team’s loss at Stanford earlier this season. Then, this Monday, he said he’d already picked up the tape for a couple more viewings in preparation for tonight’s rematch at Pauley Pavilion.

There is no doubt that the Bruins’ skipper is a film junkie ““ devouring film comes with the job description ““ but mostly he does it because he wants to keep those mistakes in celluloid and out of his conscience.

For this particular performance, however, you didn’t need to hit the rewind button much to find the culprit.

“We feel we had a very good shot to win that game,” UCLA senior guard Michael Roll said. “Then, we let Jeremy Green go off for 30 points.”

Green, Stanford’s 6-foot-4-inch sophomore phenom, scored a career-high as he tore up a UCLA defense that, at the time, was in the midst of a diffident search for its own identity.

Despite a quality shooting performance of their own, the Bruins’ shoddy defense and poor ball control handed the Cardinal the 70-59 victory. UCLA would return home with little excitement leftover from its overtime win in Berkeley just two nights prior.

“There’s definitely been some key opportunities that we’ve missed, key parts of pivotal games where we’ve let the other team take momentum,” Roll said.

Now, having just moved past the halfway point of the conference season, the Bruins (10-11, 5-4 Pac-10) has been granted another shot to capitalize on those moments. Starting with Stanford (10-11, 4-5) tonight and California (14-7, 6-3) on Saturday afternoon, UCLA will get a second chance to stop some of the best scoring talent on the West Coast.

Drinking heavily from their Fountain of Youth, a zone defense birthed and nurtured on the run, the Bruins are feeling once again like every game remaining on their schedule should be a win. Many of the UCLA players pointed to the zone and its steady development as a marker of change for their season.

“We’re actually playing it,” Roll said. “Coming in early, no one had ever played zone here in a long time. It was just something we did in practice to prepare for a game. But now that we’re playing it all the time, we’re learning it.

“We’re getting more comfortable as a team.”

Howland said the players have bought it. And so has he, sticking with the zone for nearly every minute of the team’s recent road trip to Oregon.

The deciding factor will be the team’s ability to shut down the opponent’s best player, especially with the Pac-10′s three highest scorers in conference play coming to town this weekend. Howland said he has liked his team’s ability to shut down the big guns they’ve faced in the last few games.

“We did a good job with (Klay) Thompson in the Washington State game of really being geared to where he was going to be,” Howland said. “I thought we did a good job with (Tajuan) Porter from Oregon. And we did a good job with (Calvin) Haynes on Saturday against Oregon State.”

Though those players rank near the top of the conference in points, Stanford’s one-two punch is a different story altogether.

“He’s the best shooter in the league, Green is,” Howland said. “Hands down. I have no doubts about that. And with range. I mean he has 25-, 27-foot range, so he’s a real problem.”

In addition, Stanford senior forward Landry Fields comes into the game having scored in double figures in 21 straight games.

“He’s very good around the basket,” Howland said of Fields. “He can post up. He can face up. He can put the ball on the floor.”

Those two players account for 51.6 percent of their team’s scoring, meaning that the key to beating the Cardinal will be to shut them down. So how exactly do you stop the playmakers with a zone?

“Know where they are, and be with them at all times,” Howland said.

Freshman forward Tyler Honeycutt echoed his coach: “You’ve got to know where they are, point them out wherever they go.”

Speaking in the voice of the team’s renewed confidence, Honeycutt even took it a step further regarding Green.

“I promise you he won’t have another 30-point night,” he said.

On Saturday, UCLA welcomes to Westwood the same Cal team that they shocked at Haas Pavilion back in January.

“That was a big (loss) for them at home, so I’m sure they’re going to be trying to beat us on our own court,” Roll said.

In that game, Bears point guard Jerome Randle, who averages 18.9 points per game, was held to just 11 on 1-for-8 shooting beyond the arc.

“I think he’s going to try to have a big night,” Honeycutt said. “But we’ll know to expect it.”

Through the roster shakeups that made for a rocky non-conference season and the underperforming defense of the first half of the Pac-10 schedule, it is possible that a new team has emerged on the other side.

“The team that we have now is completely different than the one we had early ““ who’s playing, who’s here even, what defense we’re playing,” Roll said. “It’s been a long road, but as of late we’ve really started playing together.

“The second half is going to be better.”

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